Taking the Squares, Tweeting the Revolution, Organizing the Common
September 30, 2011 Leave a comment
This is a new text from the Edu-Factory collective, a transnational group focused on the crisis of the university and cognitive capitalism and autonomous education as a form of the commons. Edu-Factory have had an important influence on struggles in the university through their theoretical and analytical work, for example in their recently published Towards a Global Autonomous University. They emphasise the relationship between transformations in the university and the increasing centrality of knowledge, which they understand in terms of cooperative immaterial production, to capitalism. Within this relationship lies an antagonism protagonised by ‘cognitive workers’. Edu-Factory also place an emphasis on the transnational and post-colonial dimension of political organisation today. This text provides a useful summary of where Edu-Factory is at now and how they understand the potentials and challenges confronting the movements today. Given the important theoretical dimensions of their work, the section on the relationship between theory and practice is helpful.
Taking the Squares, Tweeting the Revolution, Organizing the Common
Edu-factory is entering into its fifth year of activity. This period has been formidable, both for edu-factory as well as for the changes in the general context. First and foremost, there is the global crisis, which is to say, the crisis of global capital. Reading the daily catastrophic reports and the desperate alarms of governments, think-tanks and the mainstream media all over the world, who can remember that only twenty years ago the universal rhetoric was the celebration of the end of history? So, without any sort of idealist purpose, by means of a materialist analysis we can say that the proposition and prospect of revolution is no longer a pipe dream or fantasy. Such a possibility can be formulated from the classical definition of revolutionary situation: the governors of the global capital cannot live like before; workers, precarious, students and the productive multitudes don’t want to live like before.
When we started the edu-factory project, the crisis had not yet exploded. Nevertheless, focusing on university transformations and conflicts in knowledge production, we identified an important quality of living labor: living knowledge and its cooperative production, i.e. the common. Following this material transformation, we collectively argued that capital can no longer organize the living production of knowledge from above but instead is forced to capture it ex post, only after it is produced. This is the general trend that allows us to explore changes in the university. This also indicates the potential autonomy of living knowledge: since capitalist valorization is based on the common, the latter being its most important resource and most mortal threat, capital and its corporations – including the university – are continuously facing catastrophe. So, when the subprime crash violently emerged, we pointed out the limits of a cyclical analysis: the crisis is a permanent element given in the nexus between the common and capital. This is why talking about the global university means talking about the university in crisis.
We call this the double crisis. Edu-factory is a political project within the double crisis; it is elaborated and forged within the intimate and genealogical connection between the economic and university crises. Let us be clear: we have never been interested in a sort of deterministic or mechanistic projection of the nexus between the common and capital. The double crisis is crossed by living knowledge and its struggles, by the production of subjectivity and everyday practices of resistance. We are not against the crisis because we are the crisis. We shouldn’t give heed to catastrophic alarms because – from the right and the left – they are the mystification of austerity politics. The sacrifices made are always workers’ sacrifices and the so-called “general interest” is always the interest of CEOs and bankers. Turning the double crisis into a space of radical transformation is the political task at hand. This has been the road indicated and practiced by many revolutionary movements over the last years: from the Italian anomalous wave to the California uprising, from Greece and the UK revolts to the Spanish acampadas and, above all, the Tunisian and Egyptian insurrections. Despite their specificities, the composition of all these movements is similar: they are led by young people, highly educated (that means not only with a degree, but full of cooperative knowledge) and precarious workers or unemployed.
Within this double crisis, edu-factory holds a partisan of the point of view. We have called ourselves a complex political machine (with various articulations: the list, the website, the journal, the meetings, the networks of struggles). The space and time coordinates of our actions are immediately transnational. It isn’t necessary to repeat what we have said and written many times before; we would only like to underline that these struggles themselves highlight the necessity to experiment with new forms of transnational organization. The insurrections within the crisis in North Africa don’t have the goal of the seizing the state but are facing the question of reinventing revolution beyond national borders. In those countries where the state strongly repressed the resonances of these insurrections, for example China or Syria, the transnational connections of activists and rebels have been vital.
Since the beginning, edu-factory has challenged the traditional dichotomy of theory and practice. Both these aspects, theory and practice, have been the object of conflicts, not only between edu-factory and other political positions, but also within the initial collective of our project. In fact, when we noted a contradiction between the global dimension that the project attained and its mainly western European base, we opted for a process of transnationalization of the collective – right now there are members from almost all areas of the world. It was not at all a matter of filling “quotas” but of the political composition of the edu-factory machine. The conflicts that arose within the collective were completely political in nature: they concerned the degree to which local political fractures should impact upon this process of transnational organization. Those members who remained in the collective are convinced that politics and intellectual activity must be articulated across geographical scales.
Theoretical practice is an immediately political practice
Trying to reformat the traditional dichotomy theory-practice, Althusser proposed a new relationship: theoretical practice and political practice. According to the French philosopher, theory becomes a field of struggle, of class struggle. But despite this suggestive hypothesis, the problem remains the separation between the two terms, which risks enforcing the autonomy of theory on one hand and the autonomy of politics on the other. Overcoming this problem means affirming the immanence of theoretical practice to political practice. This means that there is no production of knowledge outside the struggles and the constitution of political subjectivity. We call this co-research, i.e. the destruction of the separation between knowledge and organization or the impossibility of knowledge production outside the partiality of a political position. The claim for neutrality is always mystification. Consequently, since the beginning, edu-factory has conducted political as much as theoretical practice, through a specific and collective process of political activity. In our view, theoretical practice is always political practice, and political practice is not only theoretical practice.
This is not only an abstract matter of method. In fact, the question is: what does theoretical practice within and against the global university and cognitive capitalism mean for living knowledge movements and conflicts in knowledge production? We believe that what is at stake is a process of the constitution of political subjectivity. Situated in the overlap between the education market and the labor market, contemporary students and cognitive workers are hybrid figures, different from the traditional working class as well as from the workforce in apprenticeship. They are immediately workers, or better yet, they are precarious workers and cooperative producers of the central source of capitalist accumulation: knowledge. It is impossible to imagine an externality of theory with regard to the composition of living labor. Or to use other words, the composition of living labor makes a collective intellectuality.
In this context, we have to re-think the figure of the activist. Within and against the global university is it possible to be a critical scholar without being an activist or, on the contrary, to be an activist without being a critical scholar? No, it isn’t. We’re not talking of a naive and linear process; there are of course several points of friction and contradiction. But militant inquiry in social movements over the last years shows us this tendency; it shows us the changing political composition of cognitive labor. This also points to another crisis within the double crisis: the irreversible crisis of representative politics, the crisis of the union and the political party. Edu-factory recognizes the continued existence of these institutions and the strategic and always contextual importance of sometimes choosing to act in concert or alliance with them. But the movement of living knowledge, which is necessarily and irreducibly multiple in its actions and constitution, cannot be reduced the logic of representation. It cannot be bound to the double movement of representation, which identifies differentiated subjects along a horizontal axis only by gathering them into a oneness and representing them on a vertical axis. This is why it is also sometimes important to reject or refuse collaboration with unions or political parties, no matter what resources they may offer or traditions they may mobilize.
Within the double crisis: what is to be done?
University corporatization, the financialization of the education and debt system, precariousness and devaluation (déclassement), the capture and expropriation of common knowledge: these are some of the central common targets of recent struggles. The use of Internet, social networks and new technologies of communication, the occupation of squares and urban spaces, blocking metropolitan circulation, riots against private property and the police, the spread of autonomous education experiences, the reappropriation of social wealth and the precarious right to bankruptcy, searching for recomposition with other figures of living labor: these are some of the central common practices of movements of living knowledge. Based on this materiality, the call for the construction of transnational forms of organization is not at all an idealistic or utopian goal, but an urgent necessity.
Pushed by this urgency, with the changes to the collective between 2009 and 2010, edu-factory opened a new phase, embodying its initial intuition and gamble: to build transnational politics. The mailing-list and website are spaces of debate and the circulation of struggles; the edu-factory journal (we’re at the second issue) is a space of global elaboration and proposal; we’re starting to construct of a glossary of our main political concepts, i.e. a lexicon of social movements, and a cartography of autonomous education experiences, to improve the continuity of transnational networking and organization. Again: theoretical practice is political practice. After the great university movements against austerity all over Europe last fall and, contemporarily, the insurrections in North Africa, in February, 2011 we were among the promoters of the meeting in Paris “For a New Europe: University Struggles Against Austerity” in which hundreds of groups, collectives and activists from Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America, North America, Africa and Asia participated. Symbolically, the Paris meeting began the day in which Mubarak was expelled by the Egyptian uprising. The Knowledge Liberation Front, the network created during the meeting, is not only European but an immediately transnational and transcontinental network. The Knowledge Liberation Front is staging with Tunisian and North African activists a transnational meeting in Tunis from 29th September to 2nd October as well as an organizational process to connect the two sides of the Mediterranean under the sign of conflict and radical transformation. The 15th of October, the day of action call by the Spanish acampadas, promises to be a great occasion to multiply our struggles against austerity and the debt system and to organize against global financial capitalism.
To be clear: the Knowledge Liberation Front is not edu-factory, because edu-factory is only one of the many organizations that compose this huge transnational network of struggles. Within the movement, edu-factory acts on the terrain of political discourse and the collective construction of transnational connections. If transnationalization is not to remain limited to the educated and “middle” classes, it will require developing relationships, both theoretical and practical, with peasant and tribal movements of the erstwhile Third World. Not only because these constitute majority populations, but also because their struggles are a vital element of the challenge to global capital. These relationships need not be ‘organic’ but can be organizational or even conceptual, for what they need to do is create possibilities of acting together. Knowledge outside the university, knowledge with the peasant, tribal and artisan classes, and knowledge particularly with women of these classes, will have to be explicitly recognized and their activity recognized as cognitive labor. This is the practice that leads us in the First International Conference Lokavidya Jan Andolan in Varanasi, India, next November 12th-14th. Lokavidya Jan Andolan is a knowledge movement of these populations, that is of those who have been dubbed as the ignorant masses by the science establishments, the universities and the modern state. We are also organizing a meeting of the North American movements for the Spring of 2012.
These initiatives don’t take the form of an international or intercontinental space, as the sum of different areas because each of these networks has immediately a global dimension. Rather, the gamble is to combine the extensiveness of these networks and the intensity of the struggles, to translate the singularities into a common composition. The traditional left – scared when protests become revolts against the system of representative politics – says: all these mobilizations must defend the public, i.e. the State. We answer: we have nothing to defend. This is the central and unifying plane of global struggles, carried on by the youth of the cognitive precariat and the proletariat of the banlieues. It is important to note that these are not necessarily distinct figures and not all of them are necessarily students or poor. Rather, these different subjects see the same process from different angles. School, the university and knowledge definitively cease to be social escalators for labor market mobility used by the declassed middleclass and as a promise of social redemption for the proletariat of the periphery. These groups are both fully productive of knowledge and suffer processes of impoverishment. They are both exploited in the process of cognitivization. Moreover, this applies not merely to a sector of the workforce but the whole composition of living labor by means of the expropriation of the knowledge and common they produce. Both are crossed, segmented and hierarchized by lines of race and gender. They are becoming evermore the same figure. And, above all, they refuse to pay for the crisis.
The political question which, from Tunisia to the UK, India to Latin America, revolutionary movements and revolts pose is the alliance or the common composition of different subjects and struggles. Transforming mobilizations around the public into the organization of institutions of the common: this is the political task today. Because we know that the governors won’t fall down if we don’t make them fall, the possibility of revolution needs to become an actual revolution – a revolution beyond and against the nation-state and its inseparable twin, the global market.